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A short story by Charles M. Skinner

An Averted Peril

Title:     An Averted Peril
Author: Charles M. Skinner [More Titles by Skinner]

In 1786 a little building stood at North Bend, Ohio, near the junction of the Miami and Ohio Rivers, from which building the stars and stripes were flying. It was one of a series of blockhouses built for the protecting of cleared land while the settlers were coming in, yet it was a trading station rather than a fort, for the attitude of government toward the red men was pacific. The French of the Mississippi Valley were not reconciled, however, to the extension of power by a Saxon people, and the English in Canada were equally jealous of the prosperity of those provinces they had so lately lost. Both French and English had emissaries among the Shawnees when it had become known that the United States intended to negotiate a treaty with them.

It was the mild weather that comes for a time in October, when Cantantowit blesses the land from his home in the southwest with rich colors, plaintive perfumes of decay, soft airs, and tender lights a time for peace; but the garrison at the fort realized that the situation was precarious. The Shawnees had camped about them, and the air was filled with the neighing of their ponies and the barking of their dogs. To let them into the fort was to invite massacre; to keep them out after they had been summoned was to declare war.

Colonel George Rogers Clarke, of Virginia, who was in command, scoffed at the fears of his men, and would not give ear to their appeals for an adjournment of the meeting or a change of the place of it. At the appointed hour the doors were opened and the Indians came in. The pipe of peace was smoked in the usual form, but the red men were sullen and insolent, and seemed to be seeking a cause of quarrel. Clarke explained that the whites desired only peace, and he asked the wise men to speak for their tribe. A stalwart chief arose, glanced contemptuously at the officer and his little guard, and, striding to the table where Clarke was seated, threw upon it two girdles of wampum--the peace-belt and the war-belt. "We offer you these belts," he said. "You know what they mean. Take which you like."

It was a deliberate insult and defiance. Both sides knew it, and many of the men held their breath. Clarke carelessly picked up the war-belt on the point of his cane and flung it among the assembled chiefs. Every man in the room sprang to his feet and clutched his weapon. Then, with a sternness that was almost ferocious, Clarke pointed to the door with an imperative action, and cried, "Dogs, you may go!"

The Indians were foiled in their ill intent by his self-possession and seeming confidence, which made them believe that he had forces in the vicinity that they were not prepared to meet. They had already had a bitter experience of his strength and craft, and in the fear that a trap had been set for them they fled tumultuously. The treaty was ratified soon after.

[The end]
Charles M. Skinner's short story: Averted Peril